The Quackson 5
Meet the Ducks! They’re all named Michael Quackson (except for Limpy, who is named Limpy.)
A fairly uneventful hatch, no one really needed assistance. There was one duckling that didn’t make it to 48 hrs, but the reasons for that are unknown. It hatched fine and with out assistance, but didn’t eat or drink.
Eggs Developed/Eggs Set: 7/7 (100%)
Eggs Developed/Eggs Hatched: 7/7 (100%)
Eggs Developed/Eggs Set: 19/21 (90.4%)
Eggs Developed/Eggs Hatched: 18/19 (94.7%)
Hatching duck eggs is a great project for those not interested in common breeds found at feed stores, the expense of having day-old ducklings shipped, or those looking to increase their flock size from their own stock. To start you’ll need some duck eggs. If you currently keep ducks, this can be relatively easy, but some thought should still go into this.
While this How-To applies to most ducks, Muscovies have a 35 day incubation period, therefore Muscovie hatchers shouldn’t use this guide.
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Sourcing Your Eggs
If you’re increasing your own flock you want to consider the purpose of the offspring. If you’re raising birds for pets or meat, then you should fine using your own eggs. If you’re breeding, you may want to think about sourcing eggs from another breeder if your stock hasn’t seen new blood in a few seasons. If you don’t currently keep ducks, then there are a few places on line that you can order from and have eggs shipped to you, or you can check your local Craigslist for someone selling fertile eggs.
If you’re using your own eggs, you may want to avoid using the first few eggs laid in the season. They tend to have lower fertility rates than those laid as little than a week later. Unfortunately, you can’t really check an egg for fertility with out breaking it, but if you’re not hatching the first week of eggs anyway you might as well eat them!
When you crack open an egg, look carefully at that yolk. If the egg was fertile, you’ll see a small white bullseye. You may need to turn the yolk over to find it, but be careful. If you break the yolk you’ll never be able to tell if it was fertilized.
Setting Your Eggs
Once you have some eggs that you are fairly confident are fertile, you’ll need to set them in your incubator. Make sure you set your incubator up away from windows and direct sunlight, and in a room where the temperature is relatively stable. Start up your incubator eat least 24 hours before you want to set your eggs. 99.5˚ F (37.5˚C) if you have a forced air incubator, 100-100.5˚F (38˚C) if you have a still air Incubator. Monitor this closely for that first day with a clinical thermometer and make sure it’s not fluctuating wildly. If the temperature is stable after 24 hours, then you can set your eggs.
I weigh my eggs regularly, usually when I candle. This helps be get an idea of whether or not I need to increase or decrease my humidity. This is optional, but is nice to have if you’re not sure if things are going correctly. If you’re going to weigh your eggs, take a starting weight measure now.
Duck eggs require higher humidity than chicken eggs, so you’ll need to increase the humidity in your incubator. Read your manual on this. Some incubators have a reservoir with instructions on how much to fill for different egg types, others… don’t. In cases where you have no instructions you may want to pick up a small hygrometer (look in the reptile section of your local pet store) and add a small cup of water to bring you to 45-55%.
With your humidity and temperature correct, you can add your eggs. Duck eggs are set in the nest on their sides, so turners that use a tray with eggs on a the point aren’t ideal. Disc turners usually don’t work because the eggs are too big, so they just need to be manually turned at least 3 times a day.
Mark Your Calendar
Duck eggs incubate for 28 days, so you’ll want to mark that on your calendar. I make sure to mark 28 and 29, since I usually have a pips on 28, and unzipping on 28 & 29 (more on what that means later.) You’ll also want to mark dates to candle your eggs to check for proper embryo development. I do this on days 7, 14, 21 and 25.
Days 1 – 7
Turn your eggs your normal 3 times a day. On day seven, Candle. You should see some veining, and a small red blob. If you don’t, put the egg back in the incubator, and candle again at day 10.
If you’re lucky and have decent vision in low light, you’ll be able to see the heartbeat.
If you’re weighing your eggs, do so and log your current weight. At week one, your batch should average 3-5% less than your start weight .
I’ll use one of my eggs as an example on how we figure this out:
Start Weight: 75g
Day 7 Weight: 72g
Difference/Start Weight: .04Multiply that by 100: 4
This egg has lost 4% of it’s weight since being set.
Do this for all the eggs. Then find your average percentage. Some individual eggs will be higher or lower, but that’s okay, as long as your average is within acceptable range. If you’re low, decrease your humidity. Too high? Up your humidity.
Weight loss is directly related to the evaporation of moisture inside the egg during incubation. If your humidity is too high, moisture can’t evaporate at the ideal rate. If it’s too low, you may see your egg weights dropping.
Turn your eggs your normal 3 times a day. Recandle those that you couldn’t ID development in on day 10 for any signs development. If there’s still nothing, hold out hope for just a few more days! On day fourteen, Candle. Anything that hasn’t shown any signs should be tossed at this point.
This is also the time to look for “quitters” or signs of an early death. These are eggs that have started to develop, but failed along the way. Personally, I have only had one of these, and it never showed the tell tale blood ring that signifies an early death. It just seemed to go from early development (red blob + veining) to looking like an undeveloped egg. Any eggs that stop developing should be tossed at this time.
I don’t have any good photos at this time, but here’s a video of an egg at day 14: Egg Development at 14 days
Keep turning your eggs 3 times a day. Candle on day 21 and look for signs of movement. The ducklings will take up a lot of the space inside the egg at this point, so look along the edge near the air cell for movement. If you’re weighing your eggs, your average weight loss should be 9-11%.
Candle your eggs to check for movement in all your eggs. Again, it’s going to be pretty hard to see it sometimes. I recommend turning your egg a few times while you’re candling so you can see it from all sides. Usually, the ducklings will shift around in the shell when you move it around. Using a pencil, trace the edge of the air cell. This is where you’ll want look for a pip in a few days.
Follow the directions on your incubator for raising the hatching humidity, or add a wet face cloth to the bottom of your incubator. You want your humidity at 65-75% for hatching.
Weighing your eggs? Your average should now be 13-15%.
If you have a dome style incubator like a Brinsea then I suggest you place the eggs with the air cells facing out. This way, you can better see pips!
You should have some internal pips at this point. This is when a duckling breaks into the air cell. At this point they are breathing and preparing to make their final escape. If you have a dome style incubator you can try to candle with out having to open the incubator. With any luck, you’ll see a bill and some movement within the air cell.
Hopefully everyone will have pipped internally (don’t worry if they haven’t as long as you still see movement in the egg.) You may have External pips by now. Look carefully at the surface of the egg. The duckling should be coming out of the ends with the air cell. Look for small raises along the surface around the air cell.
Hatch day! (Hopefully.)
In a perfect world, your ducklings would have pipped on day 27, then rested for a good long period of time before starting to unzip. That doesn’t always happen, so don’t worry if you have eggs that haven’t pipped, or have pipped but haven’t started to unzip. As long as there is movement, things are likely still okay.
Unzipping is the final stage before actually exiting the shell. The duckling will slowly crack more of the shell moving counter-clockwise from it’s pip. See my crude diagram below of the direction of unzip as viewed from the air cell end of the egg.
There will be times where you are tempted to assist. Try not to. Keep in mind that the timing of hatching is going to vary based on incubator temperature and egg size. Bigger eggs may not start to unzip until day 29. Incubators that were a little cooler (say, 98.5 instead of 99.5) will take a little longer as well.
If everything went well and all your eggs were similarly sized, you should have most of your batch hatch within a few hours of each other. My best was 5 hrs from first hatch to last. My worst: 72 hours, 1st to last.
Batch 02 hatched 5/14 rather quickly, with the first one out of its egg around 5:20pm and 5 hatched by 1am on 5/15.
As usual, the large egg was later than the rest and I assisted around 10am on the 15th with a safety hole. By 4 pm no progress had been made and I assisted further. The duckling kicked itself out of the shell by 6pm and spent a full day along in the incubator because it had ripped off its umbilical cord and was bleeding during the hatch.
On to the numbers:
Eggs Developed/Eggs Set: 6/7 (85.7%)
Eggs Developed/Eggs Hatched: 6/6 (100%)
Eggs Developed/Eggs Set: 12/14 (85.7%)
Eggs Developed/Eggs Hatched: 11/12 (91.6%)
The New Ducklings:
Lady duck is officially broody. This AM she didn’t lay an egg. This comes after three days of sitting on the nest while I wonder if she’s okay, because she’s still laying.
She’s sitting on 3 ceramic eggs and 1 real egg. Part of me wants to incubate some eggs just for her to hatch, since she’s an unproven mother. That would prevent the eggs from being lost if she walks away from the nest in a week.
Tuesday night I came home for work and set about with my usual chores. Dogs go outside, Check duckling food/water, turn eggs, start oven for dinner, let dogs in etc. but my normal routine was seriously waylaid by a low temperature warning that was flashing on my incubator.
23.6˚C, about room temp. I immediately switched from “chores” mode to “run around like a crazy person” mode.
Maybe if I unplug it and plug it back in!? Works with the router, so why not?
Maybe the sensor is wonky and it’s actually still warm?
Open it up, room temp inside the incubator.
Okay, maybe I can fit all the eggs in the working incubator! (I have two batches, totally 13 eggs at this point.)
Manage to cram all but five duck eggs in a Brisnea min advance before (Not bad! 8 duck eggs in the mini advance!)
I ended up putting the 5 duck eggs in the brooder with the 2 wk old ducklings and cranking the heat lamp up while I called around to the local TSC’s. I hate their hold music. It might not seem obvious based on this blog, but I am NOT a country girl. My anxiety was high, and songs about pickup trucks were not helping.
After calling 3 stores and cooking dinner while on hold listening to songs about pickup trucks, I instructed Jay to take the dinner rolls out of the oven in 5 minutes and eat dinner with out me. I had a 90 minute round trip to the closest TSC that had incubators in stock. I headed out and ended up calling Jay only 5 times asking what the temp in the brooder was.
Back at home with a new (45 egg!) incubator I plugged it in and sat down for some dinner. Honestly, (and this is NOT recommended) I didn’t wait the full 8 hours before putting the eggs in the new incubator. I figured it would be worse to have the eggs out in the open in the brooder, where it’s likely to get down to 95˚F than in the incubator which at that point had hit the 99˚F mark.
This evening I candled both batches. Batch 03, the batch in the failed incubator) is showing movement in all eggs and batch 02 show signs of normal development.
I had purchased the second incubator on Amazon a little over 2 weeks earlier, so I am able to return it for a full refund.
With the hatch of Batch 01 done and over I thought I’d do a recap.
With the first pip occurring around 9:30 am on Wednesday, April 20th and the last duckling fully out of its shell a little after 4pm on Saturday, we had over 77 hours from start to finish. It probably could have been shorter had I not waited so long to assist 01-07, but I was playing it safe.
Out of the 7 eggs I set, only one didn’t develop, and there was one late death. I’ll be calculating the Fertility Rate as how many eggs start developing, then hatch rate as how many of those eggs actually hatch.
Fertility rate for Batch 01: 85.7%
Hatch Rate for Batch 01: 83.3%
Having candled Batch 02, I already know that my fertility rate is 100%, which brings my overall fertility rate in 2016 to 92.8%
Now that we’ve done the numbers, on to the Ducklings!
Egg 01-08 Hatched! at 2:35am, 4/22 – Duck 2016-01
Egg 01-04 Hatched! at 5:35am, 4/22 – Duck 2016-02
Egg 01-01 Hatched! at 10:30am, 4/22 – Duck 2016-03
Egg 01-03 Hatched! at 7:35pm, 4/22 – Duck 2016-04
Egg 01-07 Hatched! at 4:10pm, 4/23 – Duck 2016-05
Two of these ducklings may end up with a co-worker, and there’s been plenty of interest in the next batch. I’m really thinking that I need to focus on getting my flock population back up to 5, so since my co-worker doesn’t yet have a setup, I may ask her if she can wait until the next batch.
When I first started looking at ducks I knew I wanted a heritage breed, something that could benefit from my involvement. I started with the pickaduck pdf on the Livestock conservancy website and made my short list. I knew what I wanted, a good layer that could be raised for meat as well, that I wouldn’t have trouble with as a novice duck keeper.
Cayuga – 100-150 eggs/year
Saxony – 190-240 eggs/year
Silver Appleyard – 200-270 eggs/year
Welsh Harlequin – 240-330 eggs/year
With my list made, I began to read up on the breeds and this is when the Saxony jumped to the top of the list. They’re name gives away where they’re from, Saxony, but I didn’t realize I got knee deep in research that Saxony is short for the Free State of Saxony. The state is home to two cities that most anyone who has read anything about WWII in Europe knows: Leipzig and Dresden, and a third lesser known city, Chemnitz.
It was in Chemnitz that Albert Franz began his work on a new breed of duck. Starting in 1924 it’s believed that he began with Rouen, Pekin and blue Pommern and it has been proposed that he may have also introduced Buff Orpington lines into his new breed. The new breed first appeared at show in 1934.
It wasn’t long after that WWII broke out and with the subsequent bombing and air raids, the breed was almost lost. Franz was taken prisoner during the war and after release, was basically starting from scratch.
Chemnitz came under Soviet occupation in 1945 and after the war became part of the East German State. It was behind the iron curtain the the breed began to stabilize and was recognized in the GDR in 1957 but seems to have remained within the region until the 70’s when it was introduced to the UK.
In the late 80’s or early 90’s David Holderread imported the first stock to the US. The breed is still an excellent show bird but can be hard to find from local breeders, hence its critical status with the Livestock Conservancy.
I bit the bullet and bought a second incubator. I spent a few hours getting calibrated, and set the eggs. I’ll update mid week with candling photos.
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Telling 2 ducklings apart is hard enough I don’t even want to think about the difficulties in keeping track of 6.
As usual, my love of tracking and data collection strikes again and I absolutely needed to have different color leg bands for each duckling. I looked at a few sets of rings similar to what I have on my adult flock currently, but I had trouble finding packs of mixed sizes AND mixed colors. Rather than purchasing a whole mess of bands I picked up some zip ties on Amazon. 500 for about $8. Yes, I will have to cut them off and replace them as the birds grow, but my hope is that I won’t have to change the bands more than three times in the ducks life. Besides, when I bring them to the processor I never remember to remove the spiral leg bands and I’ve never once gotten them back after the fact.
The pack I ordered came with 10 colors, 50 of each color (look at all those colors!) I am WAY TOO EXCITED ABOUT LEG BANDS.